The Magnificent Hundo: 98— 2001: A Space Odyssey
The Magnificent Hundo is a trip through the top one hundred films on IMDB. Why are they there? Do they deserve the acclaim they’ve received? We’re not sure, but we’re going to find out.
Ah, 2001: A Space Odyssey. I’ve got some history with this film. You see, when I was in college I worked at the school library and I found the most intriguing book by Arthur C. Clarke. I had read Clarke’s Childhood’s End in high school, so I was familiar with the author and excited to read 2001. 2001 is a film that’s passed into the cultural DNA of our society: it’s been parodied on The Simpson’s, used in commercials, and it’s played on television countless times. You probably know a lot about 2001 even if you’ve never seen it. I’d had a couple brief encounters with the film, but had never seen it. So, I tore through the book … in a couple of hours. I loved it. Later that year I saw 2010: The Year We Make Contact on cable (and read the book), and became smitten with that universe. But, I wouldn’t see the film version of 2001 until a few years later. And, when I finally saw the film version of 2001 … I kind of, sort of, totally hated it.
98. 2001: A Space Odyssey (IMDB rating 8.3
I know it’s probably sacrilege for a film geek to speak poorly of Stanley Kubrick (and we’ll eventually get to some incredible Kubrick films down the line) or 2001–a pioneering sci-fi “epic”–but, in my opinion the only thing epic about 2001 is it’s running time (160 minutes, not including the intermission).
Let me explain: 2001 is based on a set of short stories written by Clarke. He and Kubrick collaborated on the screenplay for the film, but once Kubrick began production, Clarke went off on his own to write the book. Clarke’s 2001 would release shortly after the film, but this book was no mere movie tie-in; it had quite a few changes from the film due to either Kubrick’s stylistic choices or Clarke’s need, as a novelist, to flesh out things in greater detail.
The book feels like a complete package, whereas the film feels like three distinct and separate movies glued together by forty-five minutes of spaceships dancing to classical music.
Let me set some things straight: The three distinct acts of 2001 are inherently interesting in their own right, but I don’t think that the film gels together properly. It’s entirely worth watching for a couple of reasons, but as a complete whole it’s not a great film. I know that pacing is one of my pet peeves when reviewing a film–brevity is always appreciated–so it might not be a great surprise that I had issues with the length of 2001. I do understand that 2001 was produced in a different era with different standards, but the way that 2001 is structured, each of the acts has only the faintest connection to the preceding segment (the ominous looking Monolith), and they feel completely disparate.
The film shows a few different periods of time–pre-historia, where a tribe of hominids come into contact with the Monolith and learn to use tools as weapons; 2000 on a space-station where Dr. Heywood Floyd meets with political figures to discuss the discovery of a Monolith on the moon; and perhaps the most iconic section of the film–the Jupiter mission with astronauts Bowman and Poole dealing with the malfunctioning HAL computer. Though the Monolith links the segments, they each (perhaps with the exception of the pre-historia segment) feel like they could have been their own film. But as intriguing as each of these parts are, the film is plodding, slow, and … well, boring. Kubrick makes every shot of the film a very deliberate event. It’s methodical in it’s languidness.
But! It’s a landmark sci-fi film that set in motion many, many staples of the genre for years to come. It’s a brilliant looking film that, despite being forty-five-years-old, still packs a visual punch (well, except for those ape-men in the beginning). Its soundtrack, filled with iconic classical tunes, is a delight–even if you wish Kubrick would just dock the goddamned spaceship already instead of lingering on them for his interstellar ballet. The adherence to some hard sci-fi concepts (something Clarke would try to keep in his books), like centrifuges used to create gravity and space travel difficulties, is thrilling for a science-fiction junkie. And, Kubrick’s noted eye for detail makes the backgrounds of scenes interesting as warning signs are realistic and detailed with information.
And how can I forget the HAL segment? It’s the most intriguing portion of the film. HAL 9000 would go on to become an iconic staple of the sci-fi genre, and though Kubrick’s molasses-like pacing lessens some of the thrill–HAL is still a dangerous and scary character.
The ending of the film is a visual powerhouse even though it makes almost no sense. Clarke would spend the next three books walking back the ending of 2001 just to explain it (in a mostly unsatisfactory manner). Here, it’s the equivalent of a Lost cliffhanger, with a giant space baby staring at us as the credits roll. It makes little sense; though it’s perhaps meant as more of a metaphor for humanity’s future, rather than an answer to any particular question in the narrative.
Do I like 2001: A Space Odyssey? The film? Absolutely not. It’s a methodically slow film with a batshit crazy ending. But it’s an historical and groundbreaking science fiction film–if for no other reason than its magnificent visual aesthetic and the introduction of HAL. I can see why it rates a position in IMDB’s top one hundred films and I can also see why it’s so low on the list.